For years, the outer solar system has been a subject of intrigue and speculation. But now, a team of international astronomers is suggesting that an Earth-like planet, often referred to as “Planet Nine,” could be lurking in the shadows beyond Neptune.
Earth-like Planet Within the Kuiper Belt
The Kuiper Belt, a doughnut-shaped ring of icy bodies, has long been considered a “no man’s land” in astronomical terms. However, recent studies indicate that this region could be hiding more than just dwarf planets and asteroids. Researchers from Japan’s National Astronomical Observatory suggest that this mysterious Earth-like planet could be residing within the Kuiper Belt, much closer than previously suspected.
The Kuiper Belt is the home to trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) that behave in a way that’s, well, downright peculiar, leading many to speculate about the gravitational influence of an as-yet-undiscovered planet. With over 3,300 TNOs identified, each having a diameter greater than 100 kilometers, scientists have been scratching their heads.
Planet Nine vs. Kuiper Belt Planet (KBP)
The term “Planet Nine” has been a hot topic for years, especially after Pluto lost its planetary status in 2006. However, this newly hypothesized planet, dubbed “Kuiper Belt Planet” or KBP, is stirring the pot even more. While Planet Nine is theorized to be 10 times more massive than Earth and much farther away, KBP is believed to be closer and more influential on the orbits of Kuiper Belt objects.
Revisiting Astronomical Units
Planet 9 has been estimated to be between 400 and 1,500 astronomical units (AU) away. For context, one AU is the distance from Earth to the Sun. However, recent research suggests that this planet could be three times as big as Earth and located about 500 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun.
The research team believes that this mysterious world is likely frozen and dark, given its distance from the Sun. Its mass is estimated to be 1.5 to 3 times that of Earth. This could explain the “strange behavior” of other celestial bodies, including objects with an inclination of more than 45 degrees.
While the study, published in The Astronomical Journal, has opened new avenues for understanding our solar system, it’s clear that more research is needed. The Kuiper Belt remains a cosmic playground for astronomers, and theories about Planet 9 continue to evolve.